Wednesday 29 November 2017

Communicating Is a Two Way Street, by Roiben

I was first diagnosed with a Mental Illness when I was twelve years old. I am now thirty-five. So I have grown up with Mental Illness and all that it entails. I have had many experiences through the years with both my own Mental Illness and other people’s and there are a few things I have learnt along the way. Some of these I will share here.

One of the most important things I have learnt in my life is that communication – real, open, honest communication – is the key. By which I mean, without communication you cannot have a relationship of any kind with another person.

I took a long time to learn this lesson and I learnt it the hard way. I have spent most of my life not talking about what was going on inside my own mind. Not talking about my likes and dislikes, why I acted certain ways at certain times and, ultimately, what I needed to feel safe and loved. It has led to the destruction of more than one relationship, including my relationship with my parents. My Mum does not believe in my Mental Illness. She does not get it and is of the general impression that I “make it up from stuff I read online in order to get attention”.

This belief of hers meant I stopped going to my Mum with how I was feeling and why – since the majority of the time it was intertwined with my Mental Illness. Then, over time and by extension, I stopped talking to my Dad about it too, since they shared everything I said between them. Gradually I stopped talking to them about the majority of things. Our conversations became one-sided; questions with one or two word answers. In the end, our relationship broke down.

My parents could no longer handle the surprises and shocks of my Mental Illness at its worse, when one minute I would appear fine and then the next be threatening suicide and have the police or an ambulance at the door. As a result of this my parents effectively kicked me out of the house. I now live in a little Studio on my own, and to be honest this works much better for me. I am no longer putting on a front whenever I want to walk to the kitchen and get a drink.

Communication is the key to opening many doors. When I started to open up a little and admit that I was struggling and needed help, I realized that a lot of other people felt the same way and were also struggling. Being honest also led to friendships that were far better than those I had had to date.

I learned to be more discerning with my friendships. Those who were only there to get something from me or who were not supportive of me as an individual became nothing more than acquaintances. Those who shared, back and forth, pieces of themselves, gelled and became friends, boyfriends, lovers and more. I met people on forums and on twitter, as well as friends from the days of University that I have kept in touch with. Many of these have their own stories to tell and are all the better for telling them.

More specifically, I learnt something that I now believe to my very core – communication has to go two ways. Life is a two-way street. If you are only focused on yourself and not willing to meet in the middle, your “friends” will walk the other way until they find someone who will.

Another point to make here is: Mental Illness is not an excuse to not be a good friend. I have been actively Suicidal in the past — frankly, I have been literally swallowing pills — while talking to friends online to offer them support through their own struggles. I have been on forums as a “Supporter”, actively helping others through problems with Mental Illness, whilst going through my first known episodes of Psychosis.

Being Suicidal means it is hard to drag yourself out of bed. To exist becomes a daily chore and you are out of fight, and energy – what energy? However, it is not a constant. Being Suicidal ebbs and flows with time and emotions. Even if someone is feeling at rock bottom, there will be moments when they can peek their head above the water’s edge and communicate with friends, even if just to say “I am sorry you are feeling bad right now, I am feeling uber bad”. Or, at times when even those words fail: “hugs”.

Evenings are particularly hard for me and I struggle to get out of bed in the mornings. But through the middle part of the day, even at my worst I can pass for any other person on the street. It is often at these times that I reach out to my friends and communicate about how they are, how they are holding up and what is going on in their part of the world.

Even at the most evasive, self-isolating moments, I have had instances where parts of me have reached out for another someone to understand. This action, complicated and difficult as it is, has in no uncertain terms saved my life more than once.

So, what is my message? Communicate. Both ways. Ask someone you know how they are today. Compliment people — you never know when someone may really need a kind word. Ultimately, do not struggle through this world alone. It is harsh enough WITH other people.

Loneliness is one of the world’s biggest killers. Break down its strength. Reach out.

About the Author

You can find Roiben on Twitter (@roiben).


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